National Council on Economic Education, New York, NY
Civics and Government: Focus on Economics, Unit 1, Lesson 1

Lesson Description

Students provide their own examples of the six characteristics of a market economy as they exist in the United States today. Then they see how the U.S. Constitution supports those characteristics by reading relevant portions of the Constitution, and matching these provisions with the six characteristics of a market economy. The lesson concludes by having the students read and discuss relevant portions of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. They then write essays contrasting the impact of the economic provisions of the two constitutions on the characteristics of each nation's economy.


Constitutions are economic documents as well as political documents. This is certainly true of the Constitution of the United States. Our nation's founders believed that economic freedom as well as political freedom are essential for national prosperity and growth. Accordingly, they included numerous provisions in the Constitution that support and encourage the operation of a market economy. Thus, as the basic "law of the land," the U.S Constitution defines the essential features of our economy.

Grade Levels

Grades 6-12, all students

Economic Concepts

  • Private Property
  • Freedom of Enterprise and Choice
  • Motive of Self-interest
  • Competition
  • Markets and Prices
  • Limited Role of Government

Content Standards and Benchmarks

National Standard Number: 7
Markets exist when buyers and sellers interact. This interaction determines market prices and thereby allocates scarce goods and services.

National Standard Number: 16
There is an economic role, such as provide for national defense, address environment concerns, protect property rights, and make market more competitive, for government in a market economy whenever the benefits of a government policy outweigh its costs.


Students will:

  • Describe the six basic characteristics of a market economy
  • Identify some provisions of the U.S Constitution that foster and support a market economy
  • Match provisions in the Constitution with the basic characteristics of a market economy
  • Contrast the economic provisions of the U.S. Constitution with the economic provisions of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China

Materials (click for a copy)

Time Required

One Period


  1. Distribute copies of Activity 1. Explain the meaning of each characteristic with an example, and then elicit additional examples from the class for each characteristic.

  2. Explain to the class that the U.S. Constitution is an economic document as well as a political one. Distribute copies of Activity 2. Discuss the selected excerpts with the class, making sure the students understand the meaning of each by asking students to put them in their own terms.

  3. Distribute copies of Activity 3. Display the transparency of Activity 3 for discussion and summary purposes. Divide the class into six groups by market economy characteristics. Have each group discuss the potential matches and come to a consensus.

  4. Record the matches on the overhead display, eliciting discussion and agreement from the class as you do so, and reinforce the idea that the founders intended to have the Constitution protect and support a market economy.

  5. Read to students The Preamble to the Constitution. We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. Write the phrase "promote the general welfare" on the chalkboard. Explain how this phrase has been used to justify government intervention in our market economy, for example: minimum wage laws, social security, unemployment compensation, and occupational safety regulations.


Distribute copies of Activity 4, "Economic Provisions in the Constitution of The People's Republic of China." After the students have read the copy, discuss with them how each economic provision in this document defines the economic role the government in China will play. As an out-of-class assignment, have each student write an essay explaining how the differing provisions in the two nation's constitutions can and have resulted in different types of economic freedoms and systems.

K-5 Lessons
6-12 Lessons